How are your favorite contenders training up to the first Saturday in May? Check back daily with the Churchill Downs Notes Team for all the latest.
ADVICE / DUNKIRK / JOIN IN THE DANCE – Trainer Todd Pletcher sent his chief Derby threat Dunkirk through a five-panel drill in company at the training center at Palm Meadows in Florida on Saturday morning – and he was tickled with the outcome.
Clockers gave the Unbridled’s Song colt a final time of 1:01.05 for the drill, while his workmate – the 3-year-old stakes-placed Munnings – was given a time of 1:01.25.
“I was very, very pleased with the work,” Pletcher said. “I caught him (Dunkirk) in splits of :12 4/5, :24 4/5, :36 4/5 and 1:01, and I had him galloping out in 1:14 2/5. He started out about a length and a half or two lengths behind the other horse, then he finished up about a half-length ahead. It was a very good move for him.”
The five-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s top trainer said he couldn’t be happier with the way his $3.7 million yearling was coming up to Derby 135.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the way things have gone as he’s come up to this race,” Pletcher said. “Everything has fallen into place. Every one of his works has taken place when we wanted it to and they have all come off the way we hoped. He’s coming up to the race right and we’re feeling very good about him. We couldn’t be happier.”
Pletcher said Dunkirk would ship by air from Florida on Tuesday. Pletcher himself was coming to Louisville late Sunday.
Coolmore Lexington Stakes (Grade II) winner Advice galloped a mile and three-eighths at Churchill Downs under exercise rider Kevin Willey shortly after the 8:30 renovation break.
Pletcher’s right-hand man, Mike McCarthy, oversaw the exercise out of their Barn 34 headquarters.
Advice, a son of Chapel Royal, is scheduled to have his final blowout toward his possible Derby start on Monday. To this point, no rider has been assigned to the colt, who is owned by WinStar Farm.
Join in the Dance, expected to be a serious forward factor in Derby 135 if he gets to run, continued his training toward next Saturday’s race with a mile and three-eighths gallop under Willey.
Join in the Dance is currently No. 21 on the graded stakes list and would need one of the horses ahead of him to withdraw prior to the taking of entries on Wednesday if he is to get to dance.
CHOCOLATE CANDY – The big bay colt with the mellow disposition came trackside under exercise rider Lindsey Molina Saturday at 7 a.m., but Chocolate Candy wasn’t in any rush. He stepped into the clearing near the six-furlong chute and stopped to look around. He moved forward a few yards and halted to take it all in again. And then he did it once more before walking through the chute and going about his business.
“He’s such a big, easy goin’ fella,” said Galen May, the right-hand man on the scene for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. “Nothing bothers him. That’s why I like him so much.”
Chocolate Candy took a tour of the paddock, then galloped a solid mile and a half, doing it in his low-key style out in the middle of the track.
Hollendorfer, the king of Northern California racing, had a busy day at Golden Gate Fields where he was going to saddle – among others – Our Partner the San Francisco Mile. He was scheduled to travel to Louisville on Sunday.
DESERT PARTY / REGAL RANSOM – With exercise rider Bob Chapman up, the Godolphin duo of Regal Ransom and Desert Party put in their final works for Kentucky Derby 135.
Regal Ransom was first out shortly after the track opened at 6 a.m. Accompanied by a pony, Regal Ransom backtracked to the front side then galloped to the backstretch where he broke off at the five-eighths pole. Churchill Downs clockers caught Regal Ransom in fractions of :12.40, :23.80, :35, :47 and completing the five furlongs in :59.20 for the fastest clocking of 30 at the distance.
Regal Ransom galloped out six furlongs in 1:12.40 and pulled up seven-eighths in 1:27 over a track labeled “fast.”
Desert Party came out without a pony after the renovation break and worked in :59.60, second-fastest of the morning. Fractions for the work were :12.60, :24.60, :36.40 and :48.20 with a six-furlong out time of 1:12.40 and up seven-eighths in 1:25.80.
Chapman, who has been wearing a finger watch for 10 years when working horses, had Desert Party covering the final quarter mile in :22.91.
“They both worked nicely this morning,” trainer Saeed bin Suroor said. “They are really in good form here and that is a good sign. They will walk tomorrow, jog Monday and then gallop up to the race. They both may go to the gate and paddock one time next week.
“Regal Ransom goes out with a pony because he is always keen in the morning. Desert Party is a more laid back and relaxed and always easy to train.”
The works were the second for each at Churchill Downs. Regal Ransom worked five furlongs in :59.80 and Desert Party 1:00.20 last Saturday.
Desert Party and Regal Ransom will represent the sixth and seven Kentucky Derby starters for Godolphin. They had three starts in Dubai before shipping to Churchill Downs and only one of the stable’s previous starters had had more: Curule, who had four starts in Dubai in 2000 before running seventh here.
“They are fit and ready to go,” bin Suroor said in explaining why this year may be different than in previous Derby attempts. “There will be no excuses for our horses.”
Alan Garcia will have the Derby riding assignment on Regal Ransom and Ramon Dominguez is on Desert Party.
FLAT OUT – Oxbow Racing's Flat Out was taken to Lexington's Hagyard-Davis Equine Clinic on Friday afternoon and underwent a precautionary scan Saturday morning.
“He's fit and there is no problem,” trainer Charles “Scooter” Dickey said. He said the owners just wanted the scan as a precaution to make sure the heel bruise he suffered in the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 16 is not redeveloping.
Flat Out is scheduled to return to Churchill Downs early Sunday morning in hopes of making it on the track before training hours are over.
He is currently 22nd on the graded earnings list and needs a couple of defections in order to make the field for Derby 135.
FLYING PRIVATE – Robert Baker and William Mack's Flying Private galloped under exercise rider Taylor Carty. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Flying Private would likely work Monday or Tuesday depending on weather. Robby Albarado has the Derby riding assignment on Flying Private.
FRIESAN FIRE – Vinery Stables and Fox Hill Farm’s Friesan Fire made his first appearance on the track at Churchill Downs, galloping a mile and a half under trainer Larry Jones after the renovation break.
“Everything is good here,” Jones said. “I like the way he handled his first day here.”
Friesan Fire enters the Kentucky Derby on a three-race win streak, having taken the LeComte (Grade III), Risen Star (Grade III) and Louisiana Derby (Grade II) at Fair Grounds this winter. Friesan Fire had been stabled at Keeneland for a month before shipping to Churchill Downs on Friday afternoon.
Gabriel Saez, who has been aboard for Friesan Fire’s past three victories, has the Derby riding assignment and is scheduled to work Friesan Fire on Monday morning after the renovation break.
Friesan Fire worked three times at Keeneland.
GENERAL QUARTERS – Toyota Blue Grass (Grade I) winner General Quarters galloped 1 ½ miles just after 7:30 a.m. Saturday, tugging at exercise rider Julie Sheets. Today’s routine will become ”routine” for the Sky Mesa colt, who had what is expected to be his final Derby 135 workout on Thursday.
Owner-trainer Tom McCarthy said General Quarters will gallop up to the Derby in all likelihood.
General Quarters was calm and composed walking to and from the track, led by hand by McCarthy, a retired Louisville teacher and principal who has become the Derby darling of 2009. On Friday night McCarthy was featured on ABC World News with Charles Gibson as the newscast’s “Person of the Week.”
“The phone has been ringing off the hook in all honesty,” McCarthy said of his recent fame. “Old friends, people I haven’t heard from in years, they’re all calling. It’s great, but it has not changed me. I just go on every day and keep doing what I do. Hope springs eternal. Everybody who trains horses hopes someday to be here. We’re going to enjoy it.”
General Quarters likely will become the most famous one-horse stable in America over the next seven days. But he won’t fly solo for long. McCarthy said he has a 3-year-old filly, Miss Sunshine, ready to come to the track this summer after the Derby hub-bub subsides.
HOLD ME BACK – WinStar Farm’s Hold Me Back went twice around under assistant trainer Kenny McCarthy before the renovation break.
Trainer Bill Mott said the winner of the Lane’s End (Grade II) would work “maybe Sunday; maybe Monday.”
Three-time Kentucky Derby-winning rider Kent Desormeaux will have the riding assignment next Saturday.
Hold Me Back has a record of three wins and a runner-up finish in four starts on synthetic surfaces. In his lone dirt try, Hold Me Back ran fifth in the Grade II Remsen.
“He was a big, tall, light 2-year-old who needed time to fill out,” said Elliott Walden, vice president and racing manager for WinStar. “His Ragozin number in the Remsen was the same he ran at Keeneland (in an allowance win).
“It would be reasonable to question that (his ability on dirt). But I am more confident in him than one would have just by looking at the past performances.”
I WANT REVENGE – Wood Memorial (Grade I) winner I Want Revenge galloped two miles Saturday morning with regular exercise rider Joe Deegan aboard.
Bobby Troeger, assistant to trainer Jeff Mullins, supervised the exercise. He said that Mullins was en route from California and was expected to arrive in Louisville at 7 p.m. Saturday.
I Want Revenge, a Stephen Got Even colt, has been working on Tuesdays the past month, and is expected to have his final Derby breeze this Tuesday. He’s worked twice at Churchill Downs, a 1:01.60 breeze on April 21, and a :50 half-mile on April 14.
MINE THAT BIRD – Last year’s Canadian champion 2-year-old Mine That Bird logged two miles Saturday morning, jogging a quarter-mile before galloping 1 ¾ miles under exercise rider Charlie Figueroa.
“He looks like he’s getting over the ground a little better than yesterday and better than the day before,” trainer Chip Woolley said “That’s what we’re hoping to see – him getting better each day until next Saturday.”
The son of Birdstone will breeze five furlongs Monday (approximately 8:50 a.m.) with Calvin Borel in the irons. Woolley said that he never has had Borel aboard one of his horses in a race, but that the rider of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense makes a lot of sense.
“We just weighed our options of riders out there and kept coming back to him,” Woolley said. “I’ve always liked him and thought he’d fit this horse. He’s patient and that’s the trip we’re likely to get if we’re to do any good in the Derby.”
Woolley has spent much of his training career with Quarter Horses, but said the increased chances to run Thoroughbreds in slots-rich New Mexico was part of the reason his stable has branched out in breeds in recent years. Plus, he said, “The Quarter Horse game can be awfully tough. You do everything right; but one bad break, and you’re done. It’s different with Thoroughbred racing. Look at I Want Revenge in the Wood. He stumbled, but still had a chance to run to his ability. In Quarter Horse racing, he would have been done in at the start.”
MR. HOT STUFF – WinStar Farm’s Mr. Hot Stuff, third in a pair of graded stakes at Santa Anita in his most recent starts, will put in his final Kentucky Derby drill Sunday morning at the Los Angeles track.
“He’ll go five eighths with one of our exercise riders up,” said his trainer, Eoin Harty, via phone, from a working trip in Chicago. “We’ll work him tomorrow and he’ll fly out Monday. I’ll be flying to Louisville Sunday afternoon.”
Mr. Hot Stuff, a son of Tiznow, is still missing a jockey for Derby 135 after his regular rider, Corey Nakatani, chose to jump ship and ride Square Eddie.
“We don’t have a rider yet,” Harty said, “but we’ve got lots of time to get one. We will. You can be sure of that."
MUSKET MAN – The Yonaguska colt Musket Man had his final Kentucky Derby breeze Saturday morning, and the move was a little more exciting than trainer Derek Ryan would have liked.
“A horse crossed in front of him when he broke off,” Ryan said, “and that got him a little excited. Then, near the eighth pole, some guy going the wrong way of the track ducked over toward the rail. A little excitement, but no big deal. Nothing happened.”
With Derby jockey Eibar Coa aboard, Musket Man broke off at the 5 ½-furlong pole and breezed straight through the wire to the 15/16ths pole. He was credited with a move of five furlongs in 1:01.60, out the six furlongs in 1:14.80.
“It was a good work, just what we wanted,” Ryan said. “I didn’t want him to do too much a week before the race.”
This was the second time Musket Man had worked over the Churchill Downs strip. The Illinois Derby winner breezed six furlongs in 1:13 flat last Saturday.
“I was happy with him today, and I know Coa was more impressed this morning than he was last week,” Ryan said.
“I was happy with him this morning,” Coa said. “He was more aggressive than usual, I think because that horse crossed in front of us when we broke off. He’s usually a very quiet horse.”
Musket Man has now won stakes at a mile and a sixteenth and a mile and an eighth his past two starts. Ryan, who is participating in his first Derby, has no doubts the colt can get a mile and a quarter.
“I’ve been hearing about his distance limitations since October,” the trainer said. “So far he’s handled every track and every distance. He’s improved off his last start each time, and each race he gets a little better.”
Coa rode Musket Man for the first time in the Illinois Derby and has been impressed since.
“He’s an easy horse to ride,” Coa said. “He’ll sit behind horses and wait. He runs better with a target. He’ll have plenty of targets Saturday.”
Ryan purchased Musket Man for $15,000 as a yearling from the Keeneland September Sale in 2007 on behalf of owners Eric Fein and Vic Carlson.
PAPA CLEM – Arkansas Derby (Grade II) winner Papa Clem worked seven furlongs in 1:29.20 Saturday just after the renovation break in what could be his final major preparation for Derby 135. Trainer Gary Stute said that the Bo Hirsch home-bred could blow out a quarter-mile in the final day or two before the Derby “if he’s biting and kicking.”
“The main goal was just to get him tired,” Stute said of Saturday’s drill, which went in splits of :12.60, :24.80, :37.00, :49.60, 1:02.40 and 1:15.40. “He broke off kind of fast and got a little ‘late’.”
Exercise rider Mundo Gonzalez was aboard for the workout and had a few anxious moments at the gap as Papa Clem bucked before heading onto the track and also was stirred up on the front side.
“With him,” Stute said, “I always take him with a pony. He gets to feeling pretty good.”
Fitness should not be a question with Papa Clem, who has rattled off four consecutive route races (three in stakes company) since the opening of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting. But while the first three of those races went in moderate paces with easy trips for Papa Clem, Stute said the Arkansas Derby (Grade II) provided the most education.
“He had trouble on the first turn and got dirt in his face,” Stute said of the Oaklawn experience. “Everything wasn’t just handed to him. He had to work for it.”
Papa Clem will walk the shedrow next two days and is expected to return to the track Tuesday morning. Rafael Bejarano will be in from California for the mount Saturday.
PIONEEROF THE NILE – Looking an absolute picture on a sunny and warm Kentucky morning, the dark son of Empire Maker went trackside under exercise rider George Alvarez immediately after the morning renovation break at 8:30. Assistant trainer Jim Barnes astride his pony led Pioneerof the Nile on a backtrack to the frontside, then let him do his thing – and do it he did.
Galloping well out in the middle of the track, the Zayat Stables’ homebred was strong, then stronger, going through his mile and a half exercise, finishing up just as well as he started in an impressive display or readiness for his upcoming 10-furlong task.
“He’s doing good,” said his trainer, Bob Baffert, the man who just had his ticket punched to racing’s Hall of Fame. “He likes it here. In fact, I think he might like this track more than he does Santa Anita (where he is a three-time graded stakes winner this year). He seems to lower his head and stride out even better here.
“But he’s in a tough race with some nice horses and we’ll need some luck. Twenty horses; anything can happen. We’ll need some luck.”
Pioneerof the Nile, a winner of five of his eight starts and $1,234,200, is scheduled to have his final Derby work Monday morning.
QUALITY ROAD – Florida Derby (Grade I) winner Quality Road jogged 1 ¾ miles at Belmont Park, just one day after a second quarter crack appeared. Quality Road’s latest malady appeared in his right front hoof, adding to the quarter rack he suffered in his right hind hoof after his signature win at Gulfstream Park on March 28.
“Jogging is obviously a lot easier on the horse in all ways, respiration-wise and on the legs, than galloping is,” trainer James Jerkens said of the reduced workload this morning. “It’s not quite as good of a conditioner … but it was all we could do to be on the safe side. He came back and the crack was dry and (there was) no blood seeping from it. We’re planning on patching him at 7 o’clock tomorrow morning and galloping him at about 9:20 after the second harrow break.”
According to the NYRA Press Office notes, noted hoof specialist Ian McKinlay reported, “There was no blood and he’s sound. He’s feeling good and I couldn’t be happier.”
McKinlay “laced” the half-inch quarter crack Friday and treated it with antiseptic and a “hoof toughener,” Jerkens said.
Jerkens addressed a national media teleconference Saturday morning and said the Kentucky Derby still remains in Quality Road’s crosshairs. “The way things are going, I’m pretty confident,” Jerkens said, then admitted, “I’m usually negative about everything by nature.”
If Quality Road gallops sound on Sunday, he’ll advance on to a serious workout Monday. “Tomorrow is the big day in finding out where we’re going,” Jerkens said, adding that the acrylic patch will be tested for pressure by the gallop.
Quality Road last worked five furlongs April 10 in 1:02.19 at Belmont, but Jerkens said more will need to be done to be Derby-ready.
“That was quite a while ago and we’ll definitely have to do something by Monday to be prepared,” he said. “A mile-and-a-quarter against the best horses in the country, you don’t want to be going in short of conditioning. That’s for sure.”
Jerkens said the quarter-crack problems may have more to do with pedigree and Quality Road’s build than anything. “For a horse his size,” Jerkens said, “(his feet) in comparison to the rest of him, are a little on the small side. His (hoof) walls are kind of thin.”
He said Quality Road’s three-quarter sister, Kobla Road, was a quarter-crack nightmare. “We had a horrible time with her. We were forever patching quarter-cracks up.” Her racing career had to be cut short and now is a broodmare.
While the quarter crack remains a serious concern, Jerkens said, “He hasn’t been weight-bearing sore on it.”
Quality Road will ship to Churchill Downs Tuesday if all goes well over the next two days.
SQUARE EDDIE – Square Eddie was out for a very easy jog once around the Churchill oval Saturday morning at 6:30. Exercise rider Tony Romero did the honors, moving easily alongside a big pony.
“Nice and easy today,” said assistant trainer Leandro Mora, who is holding down the fort until chief trainer Doug O’Neill makes the scene. “He’s going to work tomorrow morning after the break, so we want him fresh for that.”
Square Eddie announced his return to the racing wars with a swooping move to the front in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes on April 18 at Keeneland, only to fall back and finish third behind winner Advice. That start was the first in three months for the Smart Strike colt, who last year won the Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity (Grade I) at Keeneland and then finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Grade I) at Santa Anita.
Square Eddie is scheduled to work Sunday morning. Mora wasn’t sure whether or not his new rider, Corey Nakatani, would be coming from California for the exercise.
Mora noted further that Square Eddie’s conditioning for his comeback has been supplemented by “swimming” on an equine treadmill.
“His work routine wouldn’t have been enough to get him ready for this race on his own,” he stated. “The swimming has been a big help. In fact, we’re going back over to Keeneland with him this afternoon and let him ‘swim’ for 45 minutes or so. We’ll try to keep that up during the week, but it may be that we won’t be able to take him out of here (because of security concerns) as we get closer to the race. But we’ll keep ‘swimming’ him as long as we can. He loves it.”
Mora, a veteran of the Southern California racing scene, remembered another case of a “swimming” Derby horse.
“I was at Hollywood Park back in 1983 when David Cross Jr., had Sunny’s Halo. He’s only had a few races prepping for the Derby and a lot of people didn’t think he could be ready. But I saw David ‘swim’ that horse for 40 straight days at the old pool and treadmill they had there and I knew he was going to be fit. And he was.”
Sunny’s Halo, with only two 3-year-old prep races coming into Kentucky Derby 109, was always prominent under Eddie Delahoussaye and drew clear to win by two lengths.
SUMMER BIRD – The lightly raced colt by Birdstone who had his final major Derby work on Friday here (6 furlongs in 1:15.80) just walked under the shedrow Saturday morning.
Trainer Tim Ice and jockey Chris Rosier were off to Lone Star Park in Texas, where the trainer has three horses entered, including Catmantoo in the Texas Mile Stakes and Affirmed Truth in the Richmond Hills Stakes.
Both trainer and rider are due back in Louisville on Sunday. Before Ice left at 6:30 he had a chance to take in the pre-dawn work of Godolphin’s Regal Ransom.
WEST SIDE BERNIE – West Side Bernie had his final Kentucky Derby breeze Saturday morning, drilling a half-mile over the fast main track in :48.20 with jockey Stewart Elliott aboard.
“I told ‘Stew’ to go in :48, so it was just what I wanted,” trainer Kelly Breen said of the move. “Better a fifth slower than a second too fast.
“The track has been kind of dull, so I think that was a very good work. And ‘Stew’ told me that he had a lot of horse left when he passed the wire. So I was happy he stayed well within himself today, instead of leaving his race on the track.
“He got something out of the work without knocking himself out. The time was as close to the plan as you can get, so I’m happy.”
Breen, who will be saddling his first Kentucky Derby starter, said that West Side Bernie will gallop up to the race now.
This was the first recorded breeze West Side Bernie has put in since he drilled a half in :48.80 at Palm Meadows on March 12. He went on to run second in the Wood Memorial (Grade I) on April 4.
“I want to have a sharp horse in the Derby,” Breen said. “That’s why he worked a half-mile.”
Elliott, who won the Derby aboard Smarty Jones in 2004, said he thought the work was perfect.
“He went just like we wanted him to,” the rider said. “A very good work.”
And was the rider happy to be back at Churchill Downs?
“Thrilled,” he said. “It’s great to have a horse in the Derby.”
Breen gave $50,000 for West Side Bernie at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2007 on behalf of George and Lori Hall.
WIN WILLY – Win Willy, a son of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos jogged a mile and galloped a mile Saturday morning with exercise rider Elias Lopez aboard.
Luis Moldonado, who is caring for the horse at Churchill Downs, said that trainer Mac Robertson is due in Monday or Tuesday to supervise final preparations for Win Willy, who won the Rebel Stakes and then ran fourth in the Arkansas Derby. Cliff Berry, who was aboard in those races, will again be the rider next Saturday.
Moldonado said that Robertson was in the process of moving his entire string of some 60 horses from Oaklawn Park to Canterbury Downs, his summer headquarters.